Although there is much to see and do in central Athens, the savvy traveler knows that there are advantages to using Athens as your base to explore the nearby areas. Most of the visitors I meet choose to take at least one day trip during their stay. While you will find all sorts of group tours you can book via the Internet, and on sites like TripAdvisor & Viator, I encourage all of our guests to consider the benefits of doing it on their own (either driving themselves or with a private driver & guide that we’ve vetted). Travel outside of the city is quite easy, and there are a number of options based on your budget, group size and adventure level.
Generally people opt for one, two or more of the following:
- Delphi is probably the second or third most important site in Greece, the center of the universe according to the ancients (or, the belly button of the world, as our guide told my then 8 year old son the first time we took him there – he got a huge kick out of that one!). A visit to Delphi can be combined with a stop in the lovely mountain village of Arahova if you are traveling independently.
- Argoloid peninsula –My pick for the best bang for your buck, a trip to this nearby corner of the Peloponnese includes something to interest everyone, from archaeological sites, to bungee jumping, to wine tastings to walks on the water and tasty fish lunches along the sea.
- South to Sounion – Next to the classic photo of that church in Santorini, the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion just may be the most photographed spot in Greece outside of the Parthenon. Rightly so, since the sunset from this peninsula, though sometimes windy, is always dramatic. You can easily get down the cost on your own, but with a private driver or your own car you can feast en route or on the way back north at one of the psistarias (grills) in Kalyvia or stop for a waterfront feast in Lavrio or Microlimano.
Most travel agencies offer group day trips to Delphi, the Argoloid and the ArgoSaronic islands. The cost of these tours ranges from 75 to 125 euro per person and may or may not include lunch. Our feedback from previous guests has been mixed with the exception of the 3 Island Tour, which has been critiqued as being too rushed, too crowded and too expensive. Personally I think that getting to Pireaus on your own, and catching a flying dolphin to Hydra or Aegina is a much better option.
Though it sounds like a luxury, hiring a private driver for the day is actually a much more economic option when compared with a traditional group tour. Drivers charge 250 – 275 euro for the day (350 – 375 euro if you require a van for groups of 5 – 8 guests) and you have the freedom and flexibility to stop and go as you choose, lingering at places of interest and quickly skipping those that are not so interesting to you. Our past guests who have spent the day with Nikos, the not so famous taxi driver, all report that it was one of the highlights of their visit. Although he is not an official guide, he is able to mysteriously impart quite a bit of information during their journey and many guests arrive at the destination with enough background information to forgo hiring an official guide at the site.
Renting a car for the day
For the adventuresome, picking up a car for the day and venturing out on your own is certainly a terrific way to discover Greece. While Greek roads and Greek drivers are infamous for being “scary”, the roads once you leave the city center are quite drivable as long as you understand a few rules of the road (highways are a new addition to the Greek countryside, and therefore Greeks, accustomed to older two lane roads, frequently use the shoulder as a lane – with oncoming traffic using your lane pass. It can be scary at first, but armed with this understanding you can drive Greek roads with confidence. A subcompact car will run you around 25 euro for the day, a 9 passenger van between 100 – 125 euro for the day. All of the major car rental places have offices nearby on Sygrou, along with many local and regional providers as well. We generally rent a 9 passenger van from Avance, located on Sygrou and it usually costs us less than 100 euro for the day. If you want to explore the area south of the city, perhaps enjoying an afternoon lunch of lamb chops in Kalyvia and evening sunset at Sounion, I recommend picking up the car on Saturday afternoon, returning it early Monday morning since if the office is closed on Sunday afternoon – maybe they won’t charge you for the extra time you have it.
By public bus
Finally, for the truly adventuresome and budget conscious, there are several buses a day to Delphi. You’ll need to get yourself to the Terminal B bus station at 260 Liossion Street. You can reach this bus station from Syntagma by catching the 024 bus at Syntagma Square (the bus stop is in front of the
National Gardens on Amalias Street. This bus starts running at about 5 AM). The first bus leaving Athens for Delphi costs 13 euro and departs at 7:30 AM and gets you to Delphi at 10:30 AM. If you move quickly into the site you should just miss most of the tour buses. The afternoon returning buses as at 1:30 PM, 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM.
I don’t recommend doing the northeastern Peloponnese/Argoloid on the public bus, although if you are departing Athens and planning on basing yourself in the area of Corinth, there is a lovely new train that goes there from Athens. Visiting the sites on your own on the bus for the day, returning to Athens at night, is difficult in that you really need a car to take advantage of the number of sites, wineries and fishing villages in the area. If you want an Argoloid day trip, I definitely recommend a driver or a rental car.
Each of the above options has its advantages and disadvantages, so which you choose depends on the type of travelers you are. Driving outside of Athens is scary for some people, and rightly so. But if you want some independence and don’t want to drive yourself, I would recommend hiring a private driver. It gives you freedom and flexibility, and if you are 3 or more people, is definitely a more budget friendly choice. And while I personally don’t like large group tours at all, there is something nice when everything is taken care of. You will have a guide, a set schedule, etc. Basil and I had always traveled independently, but when we went to Morocco a few years ago we booked a small group tour and it was really liberating for me (as the mom), to have someone else tell my boys (that would be the husband and the son)- “the bus leaves at 8 AM, you better be on it” – It certainly meant I enjoyed my holiday much more!